Prompt 177. Body Love/Body Hate
Natasha Yglesias on making peace with the body
The body has been on my mind more than ever recently, and not for the usual New Year’s diet-and-exercise reasons. Now that I’m back in treatment, I’m constantly being asked how I am, being poked and prodded and examined, even self-examined. I check in with what I’m feeling and where I’m feeling it. I wake up in the middle of the night with a little catch in my chest—an irregular heartbeat—and scan my body to ensure there’s nothing else.
Prior to my leukemia recurrence, I had a conflicted relationship with my body. I’ve demanded more from it than it could give and expected it to conform to impossible standards, only to be frustrated when it broke down or fell short. Often I viewed it as a burden—weighing me down and holding me back.
All that has changed. I started another round of chemo just before New Year’s, in preparation for my bone marrow transplant sometime in February, and it’s been a hard go—I’ve spent the last eight days in bed. Today was the first day I woke up without pain. As I descended the stairs, I didn’t have to lean on the banister; I could walk almost normally. I found myself saying, “Thank you, legs. Thank you, feet.” What I felt for them bordered on reverence.
I’ve been humbled into a real respect and a newfound appreciation for all we ask of the body, all it helps us endure. Right now, because I am so vulnerable, I can’t afford to beat it down. I need to believe that it will ward off the infections that inevitably will arrive, that it will tolerate the chemo, that it’s going to be hospitable to my brother's bone marrow. It’s now that my body is at its most vulnerable, I am seeing its strength.
Today we have a prompt on the body—on how we fight with it and how we might make peace with it—from my sweet friend, the writer and editor Natasha Yglesias. In this season rife with toxic messaging around body image, I hope it offers a reprieve.
P.S. We’ve just scheduled our next meeting of the Hatch, our virtual writing hour. It’ll be next Sunday, January 16 at 1pm ET, with Carmen as host. You can learn more and find info on how to join here!
P.P.S. Later this week, I’ll be sending out the next installment of Dear Susu, my advice column where you can ask me anything. It’s a paid subscriber benefit—join us!
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177. Body Love/Body Hate by Natasha Yglesias
I don’t know a single person who doesn’t have a complicated relationship with their body, or who hasn’t been taught to dislike certain parts of it. In this way, dissatisfaction with our image and self-criticism are some of our most unifying commonalities. My own complicated self-image is so often my focus that many of my short stories were actually born from moments of frustration, sadness, or longing about my body. It was only once I began facing what made me insecure that I was able to learn more about these insecurities, and unearth their roots.
Now when I create characters, I often find myself starting with the body, and I often pull from my own bodily insecurities as inspiration. Does the character have flat feet or a downturned mouth? What are their hands always reaching for? How does gravity affect them? Have traces from their environment made themselves known on their skin or under their nails? Do they constantly pull at their clothes? What is their posture like?
While these moments of bodily consideration haven’t exorcised the pain and toxicity from my self-view, they’ve given me the power to name and explore my discomfort more fully. They’ve illuminated how my relationship to my body affects the way I move and exist in the world, the way I connect with others, and my expectations for intimacy and acceptance. This learning and unlearning about my body has helped me understand myself and others better, which only enhances my writing and strengthens my character creation.
Your prompt for the week:
Write about discomfort or bitterness you’ve felt about your body. Don’t be afraid to name it, to acknowledge its presence, and to try to discover its roots. Explore how your relationship to your body affects the way you move through the world and how it informs your relationship with others.
Take what you’ve learned and build a fictional character inspired by these findings. Try to view them as removed from you as possible. How do they exist in their world? How do they relate to others?
Natasha Yglesias is a writer and editor based in Northern California. A graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, her fiction has appeared in Third Point Press, Waypoints Magazine, Lockjaw Magazine, and elsewhere. She’s currently a fiction submissions reader for Post Road Magazine and The Line Literary Review. She’s on Twitter as @TashaYglesias.
Given that I’m back in treatment for leukemia, December’s Studio Visit with Lena Dunham was my last for the foreseeable future, but paid subscribers can still access the full archive. In its stead, I’m sending out my Dear Susu column, where I answer questions about writing and life and anything in between. In the first installment, I answered a question from Jeanne, who feels the urge to write but isn’t sure how to share her words with the world. Read the column and find instructions on how to send in your questions by clicking here!